Iron and steel industry in the United States

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In 2022, the United States was the world’s third-largest producer of raw steel (after China and India), and the sixth-largest producer of pig iron. The industry produced 29 million metric tons of pig iron and 88 million tons of steel. Most iron and steel in the United States is now made from iron and steel scrap, rather than iron ore. The United States is also a major importer of iron and steel, as well as iron and steel products.

Employment as of 2014 was 149,000 people employed in iron and steel mills, and 69,000 in foundries. The value of iron and steel produced in 2014 was $113 billion.[1] About 0.3% of the US population is employed by the steel industry.[2]

As of 2022, major steel-makers in the United States included Cleveland-Cliffs, Carpenter Technology, Commercial Metals Company, Nucor, Steel Dynamics, and U.S. Steel.[3]

Types of steel mills[edit]

There are two main types of steel mills. The traditional large integrated steel mill, which reduces metallic iron from ore (iron oxide) and makes it into pig iron and steel, has been steadily declining in importance for decades in the US. The second type, the mini-mill, or specialty steel mill, which produces new steel products by melting steel scrap, now produces the majority of steel in the US.

Integrated steel mills[edit]

In 2017, there were 9 operating integrated steel mills in the United States (plus one idled), down from 13 in 2000. Integrated mills produced 31% of the steel produced in the US.

In an integrated steel mill, iron ore is reduced to metallic iron. In the US, this is done in blast furnaces and since 2014 again using direct reduced iron furnaces in Nucor's plant in Louisiana as well as another DRI plant (producing a compactified version of DRI called hot briquetted iron, or HBI) in Texas by Voestalpine. Some of the iron from the blast furnaces is converted to steel; today this is done in basic oxygen furnaces. Iron ore, coke, and flux are fed into the blast furnace and heated. The coke reduces the iron oxide in the ore to metallic iron, and the molten mass separates into slag and iron. Some of the iron from the blast furnace is cooled, and marketed as pig iron; the rest flows into basic oxygen furnaces, where it is converted into steel. Iron and steel scrap may be added to both the blast furnace and the basic iron furnace.

US Steel operates a number of integrated steel mills, including the Gary Works in Gary, Indiana. They also operate the Edgar Thomson Works, which is the iron- and steel-making unit of the Mon Valley Works, which includes three other related plants. The Company operates the Great Lakes Works,[4] and Granite City Works.[5]

Cleveland-Cliffs operates every integrated steel mill: in East Chicago, Indiana, Burns Harbor, Indiana, and Cleveland, Ohio.[6]

In 2020, Cleveland Cliffs acquired AK Steel Corporation along with its three integrated steel mills, one in Middletown, Ohio, Dearborn, Michigan and the other in Ashland, Kentucky. The Ashland Works is no longer active and has been demolished.

Current integrated steel mills in the US

Name Location Owner Status and Date
Gary Works Gary, Indiana US Steel Operating, February 2015[7]
Mon Valley Works - Irvin Plant, Edgar Thomson Steel Works North Braddock, Pennsylvania US Steel
Granite City Works Granite City, Illinois US Steel Resumed operation 2018 [8]

May be idled in 2024, contingent on sale and union negotiations[9][10]

Indiana Harbor Works East Chicago, Indiana Cleveland-Cliffs
Burns Harbor Works Burns Harbor, Indiana Cleveland-Cliffs
Middletown Works Middletown, Ohio Cleveland-Cliffs
Cleveland Works Cleveland, Ohio Cleveland-Cliffs
Dearborn Works Dearborn, Michigan Cleveland-Cliffs One operating blast furnace ("A")

Formerly Severstal Dearborn (2004-2014)

Previously Rouge Steel (1989-2004)

Previously Ford Rouge Plant (1910-1989)

Great Lakes Works River Rouge and Ecorse, Michigan US Steel idled 2019 December[4]
Fairfield Works Fairfield, Alabama US Steel closed permanently 2015 August [11]

Specialty steel mills / minimills[edit]

There were about 112 minimills or specialty mills in the US, which in 2013 produced 59% of US total steel production. The specialty mills use iron and steel scrap, rather than iron ore, as feedstock, and melt the scrap in electric furnaces.

Notable Specialty and Mini-Mills in the US

Name Location Owner Status and Date
Brackenridge Works Brackenridge, Pennsylvania Allegheny Technologies
former Colorado Fuel and Iron plant Pueblo, Colorado Oregon Steel Mills Former integrated mill
Evraz Claymont Steel Claymont, Delaware Evraz Group Closed
Mississippi Steel Flowood, Mississippi Nucor
Butler Works Butler, Pennsylvania Cleveland-Cliffs, Inc. Grain Oriented Electrical Steel

Raw materials[edit]

The two main inputs into iron- and steel-making are a source of iron and a source of energy. Additional requirements are a fluxing material to remove the impurities, and alloy metals to give particular properties to the metal.

Raw materials used in US iron and steel production, 2012

Input metric tons Purpose
Iron ore 46,900,000 Iron source
Iron and steel scrap 104,100,000 Iron source
Coke 9,490,000 Reducing agent
Lime 5,730,000 Flux
Fluorspar 47,800 Flux
Manganese 382,000 Alloy
Chromium 251,000 Alloy
Nickel 194,000 Alloy
Molybdenum 11,800 Alloy
Vanadium 2,500 Alloy
Tungsten 123 Alloy
Source: US Geological Survey, Minerals Yearbooks, 2012 and 2013.[12]

Iron ore[edit]

Iron and steel scrap[edit]

Two-thirds of the iron and steel produced in the US is made from recycled scrap, rather than from iron ore. In 2014, 81 million mt of iron and steel were produced from scrap.[13] Most steel from scrap is produced using electric arc furnaces.


Coke, produced from coking coal, is used to reduce iron ore (made up of iron oxides) to metallic iron.


Flux is added to the furnace charge (iron ore, pig iron, or scrap) to lower the melting point, and draw unwanted impurities into the slag. The most common flux is lime. Other fluxes include dolomite, soda ash, and fluorspar.

Alloy metals[edit]

Other metals are commonly added to steel to produce alloy steels of various types. Common alloy metals are manganese, nickel, molybdenum, chromium, and vanadium. Stainless steel commonly contains a minimum of 10.5% chromium, and may also contain significant amounts of nickel or molybdenum.


Slag, a byproduct of iron and steel-making composed primarily of highly impure glass, would normally be a waste product. However, it is in demand as an aggregate in concrete, asphalt paving, and construction fill. In 2014, the industry produced and marketed about 16.0 million mt of slag, worth an estimated $270 million.[14]

International trade[edit]

The United States has been a major importer of steel and steel mill products since the 1960s. In 2014, the US exported 11 million tons of steel products, and imported 39 million tons. Net imports were 17 percent of consumption.[15]

Imports by Top 10 source countries
YTD through December 2017[16][17] [18]
No. Country Volume
(metric tons)
Percent Value
1  Canada 5,675,816 16% 5,119,944 18%
2  Brazil 4,665,428 14% 2,442,468 8%
3  South Korea 3,401,405 10% 2,785,764 10%
4  Mexico 3,155,117 9% 2,501,226 9%
5  Russia 2,866,695 8% 1,431,273 5%
6  Turkey 1,977,866 6% 1,182,998 4%
7  Japan 1,727,844 5% 1,657,908 6%
8  Germany 1,380,434 4% 1,833,793 6%
9  Taiwan 1,128,356 3% 1,261,033 4%
10  India 743,021 2% 732,425 3%
Others 7,750,525 22% 8,189,503 28%
Total 34,472,507 100% 29,138,335 100%

History of US iron- and steel-making[edit]

Graph of US iron and steel production, 1900-2014, data from USGS

The US iron and steel industry has paralleled the industry in other countries in technological developments. In the 1800s, the US switched from charcoal to coke in ore smelting, adopted the Bessemer process, and saw the rise of very large integrated steel mills. In the 20th century, the US industry successively adopted the open hearth process, then the basic oxygen furnace. Since the American industry peaked in the 1940s and 1950s, the US industry has shifted to small mini-mills and specialty mills, using iron and steel scrap as feedstock, rather than iron ore.


  1. ^ Iron and Steel, Mineral Commodities Summaries.
  2. ^ Rickard, Stephanie J. (2020). "Economic Geography, Politics, and Policy". Annual Review of Political Science. 23: 187–202. doi:10.1146/annurev-polisci-050718-033649.
  3. ^ US Department of Commerce, [ Steel industry executive summary], June 2015.
  4. ^ a b Deaux, Joe (2019-12-20). "U.S. Steel to cut 1,545 Michigan jobs as weakness overwhelms Trump's protection". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-12-21.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ US Steel Corp., Facilities Archived 2016-02-16 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 1 August 2015.
  6. ^ 2014 ArelorMittal USA Factbook Archived 2015-09-15 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ "US Steel closes Gary Works coke plant," Chicago Tribune, 26 Feb. 2015.
  8. ^ "USW Welcomes News of Restart at U.S. Steel Granite City Works".
  9. ^ "U.S. Steel Plant Trump 'Saved' Slated to End Steelmaking Forever". 2022-06-28. Retrieved 2023-05-23.
  10. ^ "Steelworkers union could block sale of Granite City plant — keeping 1,000 jobs". STLPR. 2023-01-12. Retrieved 2023-05-23.
  11. ^ "U.S. Steel to End Operations at Alabama's Fairfield Works Mill".
  12. ^ US Geological Survey, Minerals Yearbook, 2012 and 2013.
  13. ^ Michael D. Fenton, Iron and steel scrap, US Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summary 2015, Jan. 2015.
  14. ^ Hendrik G. van Oss, Iron and Steel Slag, US Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, Jan. 2015.
  15. ^ US Geological Survey, [1], 2015.
  16. ^ "Steel Imports Report: United States" (PDF). International Trade Administration. December 2017.
  17. ^ "Imports of Steel Products". United States Census Bureau.
  18. ^ "Exhibit 4. U.S. Imports For Consumption of Steel Products From Selected Countries and Areas" (PDF). United States Census Bureau.

External links[edit]